50 years ago JFK woke up president---his impact then on small town Ireland


Fifty years ago today on November 9th 1960 the world woke up to John F.Kennedy as the first ever Irish Catholic president. It has never been the same since.

The margin of victory was razor-thin, just 112,000 votes, most of them likely supplied illegally by Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago which swung Illinois to Kennedy.

I was seven years old at the time but have the distinct memory of church bells ringing in my native Tipperary town and a sense of excitement among neighbors that something extraordinary had happened.

I have a complete memory of Mrs Ryan, a neighbor, on her way to the creamery with a little silver can, stopping over at the house to discuss the magnificent news and staying on so late that the creamery had shut by the time she got up to leave.

It wasn't long before a picture of John F.Kennedy was hoisted onto our mantelpiece in our best room beside that of Pope John the XXIII. There they both would stay as long as my parents were alive.

It was the same all over Ireland, a profound moment of pride for a country just coming out of a long dark night of economic gloom and mass emigration.

My father could hardly wait for the Irish Press newspaper the next morning with its huge banner headline that Kennedy had been elected. He even bought the Irish Times, the Protestant paper, to see what they were saying.

That Sunday a priest called Father Noonan told our little congregation that some good at last had come out of emigration, that the descendant of a poor Catholic from a town in Wexford not too far distant, fleeing the Famine had become the most powerful man in the world.

Suddenly our little backwater didn't seem so dull and boring anymore. I didn't know it at the time, but at the time a grandson of Tipperary, Pat Brown was governor of California and his son Jerry is now elected once again as Chief Executive.

So Erin's exiles had made their mark across the water in the most powerful land of all. Fifty years ago today it all seemed powerful and promising. The awful events of Dallas just three years later alas, would bring it all back to reality again.

But in those three years Ireland took a massive leap forward and would never be the same again. It implanted firmly for me this notion of a great land to the west where Irish thrived.

Most of all John F.Kennedy's election made us proud, as proud as poor neighbors could be of a neighbor's offspring.

Ireland never seemed so poor or so insular again.

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